This is the sixth in a 13-part series wherein I give you Hell, a little booklet by the inimitable Dr. Jeff Obadiah Simmonds.
If one looks at the Scriptures, it is apparent that God’s response to evil is annihilation. That is, because God is holy and cannot co-exist with evil, He always moves to destroy it. While it may seem offensive to us, the stories in Joshua about the children of Israel exterminating whole cities and societies are about annihilation. God did not ask the Israelites to torture the Canaanites, or to keep them alive endlessly pouring burning coals on them. Rather, these peoples given over to evil (such as the practice of child sacrifice) were to be destroyed—annihilated.
Similarly, in the Old Testament Law God commanded that certain people—such as adulterers—were to be put to death. This is because God’s response to evil is to destroy it; the adulterer and the idolater were to be annihilated.
Throughout the Old Testament we read of similar responses to evil. The northern kingdom of Israel was also annihilated. Those who went after the Baals were not tortured by God—they were simply destroyed.
This is the model for how God deals with evil. In the afterlife God will not torture the wicked—He will punish them by destroying them. This is because God cannot co-exist with evil, and to keep wickedness alive in some corner of the Universe in order to punish it would be opposed to the character of God. Remember that God is present everywhere and the idea that hell is a place where God is absent is contrary to the teachings of the Bible.
God, in the end, will have a “clean universe”—a universe without evil. God will not keep the wicked eternally alive—cursing God and blashpheming His Name as they are tortured in fire—since sin and evil would be perpetuated. If this were true God would be segregating evil, and not destroying it.
However, Scripture consistently indicates that the wicked will be destroyed. Jesus also spoke of the wicked “perishing” or being destroyed. When told about some Galileans who had been killed by Pilate, he said:
“I tell you… unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (Lk 13.3)
Consistently, the language used throughout the Bible to describe the fate of the wicked is imagery of destruction, not of enduring torment. Interestingly, sometimes the Biblical authors speak of fire as the agent of God’s judgement, but this image is always one of destruction—fire consumes and destroys—not as an image of torture.
In Obadiah’s prophecy, judgement on Edom was extinction:
“The house of Jacob will be a fire
and the house of Joseph a flame;
the house of Esau [Edom] will be stubble,
and they will set it on fire and consume it.
There will be no survivors
from the house of Esau.” (Ob 18)
God’s judgement, it seems, is one of annihilation. The fire of God’s judgement, like the fire of hell, is a consuming fire. Those upon whom it falls will “disappear from history, as though [they] had never existed.”